The vision Hillsborough County Administrator Pat Bean laid out this week for the two years remaining on her contract was predictable: garbled, superficial and clueless on how the county can recover from the recession. While she was going on about the good old days, the CEO of the fourth-largest county in the fourth-largest state should have been explaining how she plans to balance the budget, maintain public services and grow the economy. Hillsborough County cannot limp through the next two years with a county administrator so unprepared to responsibly address issues such as taxes, spending, transportation and a potential change in county governance.
A county employee for a third of a century and administrator for the past six years, Bean is just running out the clock until her retirement. Even the presentation she made to county commissioners Wednesday was an exercise in buying time. Rather than offer a way forward, Bean talked in circles about how her hands are tied by the tough economy. She told commissioners to lower their expectations and scratch ambitious goals. She also asked for more time to huddle with the staff before offering any policy guidance. It was a pitiful performance that reinforced the need for a change in leadership.
There could not be a worse time for Hillsborough to have an administrator so devoid of vision, leadership or any sense of urgency. Property tax revenue is projected to decline $57 million in the coming year, so commissioners face a new round of budget cuts to parks, seniors programs, nonprofit groups and other county services. Bean still has not proposed the necessary framework for a referendum on transportation, despite being instructed by the board to do so last year. For all her talk about reinventing government, Bean has shown no real commitment to set priorities or consolidate county services with other local governments.
On top of all that came Bean's admission Thursday that she instructed her staff to obtain e-mails of Jim Barnes, the county auditor, who last year undertook an investigation of questionable pay raises for Bean and County Attorney Renee Lee. While e-mails of government officials are public record, Florida law exempts records of an audit in progress. As many as 6,000 e-mails containing information about ongoing audits and other office business may have been delivered to Bean. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement needs to investigate this breach. Bean insists she did not read the e-mails, but that is beside the point. The question is whether the administrator violated the charter's separation of power.
Commissioners have stuck with Bean because they don't want defend paying her a six-figure severance. But Hillsborough taxpayers cannot afford to wait two years for capable leadership with so many defining issues on the table. Paying the price to force Bean out and replace her with a competent administrator would be an investment in the future.